Each month, Abraham Riesman offers recommendations of comics, including book-length graphic novels, comics-format nonfiction, and ongoing series. With any luck, at least one of them will be a match for you.
Aliens: Dead Orbit by James Stokoe (Dark Horse)
It feels like James Stokoe’s entire career has been building up to doing an Aliens comic. Or perhaps the entire Aliens franchise has been building up to working with James Stokoe. It’s probably a bit of both, since the synergy between creator and franchise in Dead Orbit is one of remarkable power. Stokoe is among the best writer-artists working in comics today, trafficking in a Moebius-influenced signature style filled with crosshatching, detailed line work, and eerily organic visions of technology. Here, we get his take on the mythos Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger pioneered and James Cameron advanced, with a firm emphasis on the tone of the former instead of the latter. There’s no bullet-blasting action here, just fear of the unknown and the horror of a haunted house in space. Read it and you’ll salivate like a Xenomorph staring down its prey in an air vent.
Street Angel: After School Kung Fu Special by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca (Image)
I’ll copy the description that the creators of Street Angel give of protagonist Jesse Sanchez, since I could never do it better:
“A+ skateboarder, D- orphan, and undisputed queen of the dumpster. Her alter ego, Street Angel, is razors and myth. An urban legend’s urban legend. The deadliest girl alive, Street Angel has saved the world at least 3 ½ times.”
What, that’s not enough to whet your appetite? If you need more convincing: Street Angel is one of the most kick-ass comics on the market right now. It follows Jesse in a bruising tale of battle against a schoolyard tormentor, one that renders their tussle and its prelude with astounding dynamism and impact. Jim Rugg’s artwork is nothing short of fantastic, hopping into your face like the sole of a Chuck Taylor at the end of a roundhouse kick. Originally relegated to micro-press publishing, Jesse is now in mainstream publishing, and you’ll find yourself wondering whether you want to be her, or are terrified that she might destroy you.
Eleanor & the Egret by John Layman, Sam Kieth, and Ronda Pattinson (AfterShock)
Back in the day, Sam Kieth co-created the Sandman with Neil Gaiman and and Mike Dringenberg, then went on to create cult-favorite indie hero the Maxx … and since then, we haven’t seen nearly enough of him. We also don’t get enough of John Layman, writer-creator of fan-favorite Image series Chew, but all of that changes with the arrival of the charming Eleanor & the Egret from upstart publisher AfterShock. It’s kinda hard to say what, exactly, the book is, other than a total delight. It takes place in some kind of steampunk version of the Victorian Era and centers around a mysterious woman who may or may not actually be three different women and may or may not have stolen a valuable painting and may or may not hang out with a talking bird. Even if you can’t totally follow what’s going on (which, one suspects, is the intended effect), there’s more than enough to love in Kieth and colorist Ronda Pattinson’s spectacular and impressionistic artwork. “We got this,” the egret tells Eleanor at one point. “You think?” she asks. He replies firmly: “I’m sure of it.” So am I.
Royal City by Jeff Lemire (Image)
There are surprisingly few family dramas in comics. It’s one of the dominant modes in film and television, but there’s been a deficit of it in sequential art. So thank goodness that writer-artist Jeff Lemire’s Royal City delivers a pitch-perfect take on the genre, proving that it can thrive in the medium. The book follows a family in a small town, the members of which all face agonizing but mundane problems. The twist here is that there are mysterious, somewhat ghostly figures who keep speaking to them. Or is it just one figure with many aspects? Lemire’s evocative watercolors are uniquely well-suited for this brand of magical realism, and he demonstrates that he doesn’t need wall-busting action to keep your eye gripped by the comic in front of you.
Old Man Logan by Jeff Lemire and Eric Nguyen (Marvel)
Speaking of Lemire, the guy’s also killing it in the superhero game. Since last year, he’s been writing Old Man Logan, a Marvel series that spins out of the epochal “Old Man Logan” story line in Wolverine that so influenced the latest X-movie, Logan. The title follows an elderly version of Wolvie as he navigates a world that makes little sense to him and grapples with the fact that he’s seen a vision of a dystopian future that he feels helpless to prevent. A new arc is about to begin in which we’re promised an expansive look at the centuries-long life of Logan (née James Howlett), scribed by Lemire but illustrated by the greatly underrated Eric Nguyen of Dark Horse’s X. If you fell or re-fell in love with Wolverine thanks to Logan, prepare to get punched right in the feels, as the kids say.
The Sound of the World by Heart by Giacomo Bevilacqua (Lion Forge)
“No one is ready when they first get here,” Giacomo Bevilacqua writes of New York City in The Sound of the World by Heart, “and no one is ever ready to leave again.” That’s a decent description of how one reacts to his graphic novel, as well. If you’re as unabashedly romantic as Bevilacqua, you’ll swoon over his extended vignette about a man on an unusual mission: move to Manhattan and avoid all human interaction for two months, then write about the experience. Of course, things don’t go according to plan; of course they don’t go according to plan because he meets a girl. Their serendipitously entwining pathways bring the reader along on a journey through the Big Apple, and Bevilacqua has an uncanny ability to convey everything that makes the city beautiful in autumn. Just try not to fall in love — both with the characters, and the burg in which they dwell.
Afar by Leila del Duca and Kit Seaton (Image)
There’s far too little Afrofuturism in comics. Sci-fi stories with black protagonists and African-influenced milieus pop up in Marvel’s Black Panther, but that’s about it for mainstream sequential art. How lucky we are, then, to get writer Leila del Duca and artist Kit Seaton’s sweeping new graphic novel, Afar. In it, we meet two impoverished siblings who dwell in a pastiche of sub-Saharan Africa that resembles either a steampunk past or a post-apocalyptic future. After their parents depart to earn much-needed cash, the kids end up on a rollicking adventure across a desert while running from danger. But the central conceit deals with journeys far longer than treks in a wasteland: The sister suddenly finds that her spirit travels to distant planets while she’s asleep or unconscious. The writing simmers with tension and confusion, but the real action comes in Seaton’s surreal imagery — she seems to have an unlimited supply of imaginary worlds in her head, and it’s a treat to see them put on paper.
Cloud Stories by K. Thor Jensen (Self-Published)
The final piece (calling it a “story” doesn’t feel quite right) in K. Thor Jensen’s Cloud Stories offers instructions on how to become a cloud. The final three steps are as follows:
“When no aspect of you has ever existed, open your eyes. Make no attempt to reestablish a sense of self. You are now a cloud.”
That kind of transformation and disorientation permeates this remarkable compilation of microfictions, which feels wholly unlike anything else in the comics marketplace. The conceit is that every miniature chapter has something to do with clouds, and Jensen takes that prompt and runs with it: There’s an instructional comic on cloud science, a story about a violent man who vapes a lot, a superhero parody in which the protagonist fights a robot that eats clouds, a terrifying horror vignette about people turning into clouds of indescribable tiny objects, a charming bit about a cloud-dwelling giant who’s sick of warriors coming to slay him, and so on. There’s no reason given for Jensen’s fixation on clouds, but you’ll be glad he has it.